As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to enter the White House, there are a number of steps his government can take to undo the damage that Donald Trump caused — while also moving forward in a positive direction.
The Secular Democrats for America just released a document spelling out a number of concrete steps the next administration should take — and the document already has the support of Congressional Freethought Caucus members and Democratic Representatives Jared Huffman, Jamie Raskin, and Jerry McNerney. (I’ve signed onto it in a personal capacity as a member of the Humanists for Biden Advisory Council.)
Among a number of areas of concern highlighted by the report are the unconstitutional government funding of sectarian programs and religion-based discrimination, the marginalization of science in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid epidemic, public servants using their positions to proselytize, and the failure to protect religious minorities abroad from persecution and discrimination at home.
In turn, the group offered a detailed set of policy initiatives and programs the Biden administration can adopt, along with a list of Trump-era executive orders, programs, regulations, and guidance that need direct repeal or intervention.
“Tens of millions of secular Americans stood with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Election Day because they want a government that reflects their values,” said Sarah Levin, program director for the Secular Democrats of America. ”President Trump placed religious privilege above both individual freedom and our democratic way of life. Our community voted to displace his discriminatory, anti-science, sectarian ideology and rebuild a government that protects and supports all Americans.”
Among the specific actions listed in great detail, the document calls for all government funding to be evidence-based, non-sectarian, and non-discriminatory. That means taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be funding ministries that primarily seek to proselytize, “crisis pregnancy centers,” abstinence-only sex education, private religious schools, or faith-based groups that refuse to hire qualified people simply because they’re LGBTQ or belong to a different religion.
Scientific integrity should be prioritized, scientists should be permitted to release their data and speak freely about their work, and federal researchers should not be hampered by faith-based rules regarding stem cells.
A future attorney general must support COVID-related restrictions on indoor gatherings that doesn’t exempt religious institutions from the rules (since the virus sure as hell doesn’t). The administration must also make sure federal workers do not use their positions to advance their personal religious agendas a la Mike Pompeo. They should also demand that the IRS enforce the Johnson Amendment (which Trump falsely claimed he repealed) so that churches endorsing political candidates don’t get to keep their tax-exempt statuses.
The administration should also only nominate judges who respect church/state separation and the Establishment Clause.
As for representation, the group asks the Biden administration to make sure non-theists are always included in “interfaith” events or councils and that Secular Americans are not afterthoughts when discussing the people in the country or responding to national tragedies. That means resisting phrases like “Judeo-Christian values” and “Christian nation,” which have been weaponized by the Right, and avoiding comments that suggest all Americans are people of faith.
Again, the entire document goes much further in depth and includes many more recommendations. None of it should be controversial, even for religious people. The goal isn’t to advance atheism or use the government to get in the way of religious freedom. The goal is to maintain religious neutrality for everyone instead of promoting religious privilege for some and reminding the next president that the fastest growing religious demographic in the country is the one that rejects organized religion entirely.
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